The road winds on forever and ever. Rory can’t take it anymore. She can’t remember the last time her sunkissed skin rubbed anything other than the arm of her brother beside her, or the whine of their ‘95 Corolla didn’t permeate her entire being. Some vacation. Right now they were chugging up yet another cliffside highway, Mom gripping the steering wheel as if it were about to fly away and Dad silent as a tombstone next to her. She’d already read through her entire collection of mystery novels and no one had texted her. She’d rather be at home. (She wants to be let out of this car, this family.)
The only thing that calms her is her collection of rocks and other knick knacks. She’d picked one up at each stop they’d made along the way. There is a whole bag of them, some of them so tiny they almost slip through the cracks of her hands and out of memory. At first, Mom and Dad had prodded her to pick out the mementos, but as her collection grew, their enthusiasm abated. It sagged against her thighs, trapped in an old pillowcase and spilled past the invisible line between her brother and her. It sprawled like a city out of control, like someone who didn’t care. It made sweat pool at the backs of her thighs and glued her to the peeling pleather seats.
The stifling heat reaches a fever pitch and Rory licks her dry lips. “Dad, will you roll down the window?”
“Sure, honey,” her dad says in a zombie-like monotone. He clutches a few times before his hand lands on the window crank. Eeek, Eek, Eek. As the window inches down, a mosquito that’s been in the car buzzes, trying to cling on, and is sucked into the crack.
“Can we stop at the next next gas station, instead of the next?” Rory sucks in the new air, wishing the stale air would circulate faster. /as if that would make the stale air circulate faster.
Dad touches his neck. “Your mom will be the judge of that.”
To her left, Cory mumbles something incomprehensible and jabs his elbow into her side. Rory’s irritation flares slightly now that her brother is awake.
“Are we at the washrooms yet?” Cory’s speech is slurred by sleep. His hair is dishevelled beyond repair.
“Can’t we wait?” Rory whines. Dad shoots a pointed look at her pillowcase. If they make another stop, Rory will add to it. As Rory shifts to unstick her thighs, the knicknacks make a plastic clack.
Cory rubs the sleep out of his eyes. “I’ve been holding it since the last stop. How long was that, Dad?”
“We’ll get off at the next stop,” Dad reassures him. But Rory can see the battle inside his head.
Rory glances into the rearview mirror to see how Mom reacts. She hasn’t. But by now, Rory knows that that the slightest thinning of her lips, carefully crafted to conceal her tiredness and burning fuse, means she’s almost reached her limit. She doesn’t dare call out: Mom? The last time she did that, the car nearly swerved into oncoming traffic.
Mom hasn’t spoken a word since they left their grandparents’ house two hundred and sixty miles ago.